The US and the UK are among those nations to have shifted away from coal power in recent years, yet the drivers in each country have been different.
Soon after being elected, US President Donald Trump promised a resurgence of coal, saying “we’re going to put our miners back to work”.32 The opposite occurred.
The New York Times reports that during the Trump presidency, 145 coal-burning units at 75 power plants were shut down, shrinking US coal-generated capacity by 15 per cent.33
A domestic boom in the extraction and burning of gas has been a key driver in America’s pivot away from coal, yet the environmental benefits of gas (often referred to as “natural gas” despite it being a fossil fuel) are questionable. Studies show that when accounting for “fugitive” methane emissions involved in its extraction and transportation, gas can be almost as environmentally damaging as coal.34
In the UK, much of the energy generating capacity lost with the shuttering of coal plants was replaced by an explosion in renewables, particularly offshore wind turbines. There, between 2014 and 2020, coal plant capacity plummeted 75%.27
In Australia, which is the world’s second biggest coal exporter,35 the picture is somewhat mixed.
Coal plants continue to be retired and plans to build new plants are being cancelled – yet there remains a stubborn push to build new coal power plants. However, while proposed new plants have been “announced” in recent years, experts say new coal plants no longer stack up financially and it’s highly unlikely they will be built.35
In a widely criticised move, the Australian Government in May announced it would spend up to AUD$600m building a new, 660MW gas plant at Kurri Kurri, in NSW’s Hunter Valley. Critics have questioned why taxpayers should fund projects the private sector won’t.
The gas plant would be used to provide “dispatchable”, on-demand energy at times of peak energy use, after the Liddell coal plant shuts down in 2023. Yet the Australian Energy Market Operator says there is no need to replace the Liddell plant and questions remain as to whether the new gas plant will proceed.36
1 How College Kids Helped Divest $50 Billion From Fossil Fuels. Victor Luckerson, Time. 2014.
2 Tracking Academia’s Fossil Fuel Divestment. Zahra Hirji and Elizabeth Douglass, Inside Climate News. 2015.
3 Campaign Against Fossil Fuels Growing. Damian Carrington, The Guardian. 2013.
4 Leonardo DiCaprio Breaks Up with Big Coal. Aaron Smith, CNN Business. 2015.
5 DivestInvest. 2021.
6 Does the fossil fuel divestment movement impact new oil and gas fundraising? Cojoianu et al., Journal of Economic Geography. 2021.
7 Unburnable Carbon. Market Forces. Accessed 2021.
8 The Economic Geography of Fossil Fuel Divestment, Environmental Policies and Oil and Gas Financing. Cojoianu et al. 2019.
9 Does the fossil fuel divestment movement impact new oil and gas fundraising? Cojoianu et al., Journal of Economic Geography. 2021.
10 Divest Harvard. 2021.
11 Natalie Portman Joins Calls for Harvard to Sell Off Stocks in Big Energy Firms. Charlotte Alter, Time. 2015.
13 Go Fossil Free. 2021.
14 Does the fossil fuel divestment movement impact new oil and gas fundraising? Cojoianu et al., Journal of Economic Geography. 2021
15 Desmond Tutu calls for anti-apartheid style boycott of fossil fuel industry. Damian Carrington, The Guardian. 2014
16 Does the fossil fuel divestment movement impact new oil and gas fundraising? Cojoianu et al., Journal of Economic Geography. 2021
17 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C. IPCC. Accessed 2021.
18 Measuring the Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement. Arabella Advisors. 2016.
21 World’s biggest fund manager vows to divest from thermal coal. Joanna Partridge. The Guardian. 2020.
22 BlackRock holds $85bn in coal despite pledge to sell fossil fuel shares. The Guardian. 2021.
23 BlackRock votes against 49 companies for lack of climate crisis progress. The Guardian. 2020.
24 BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020.
25 BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020.
26 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C. IPCC. Accessed 2021.
27 DivestInvest. 2021.
28 Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. 2021.
29 China aims for ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2060. Matt McGrath, BBC. 2020
30 Global Energy Monitor. 2021.
31 China aims for ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2060. Matt McGrath, BBC. 2020
32 Trump made a promise to save coal in 2016. He couldn’t keep it. Ari Natter and Will Wade. Bloomberg. 2020.
33 ‘The Coal Industry Is Back,’ Trump Proclaimed. It Wasn’t. Eric Lipton, The New York Times. 2020.
34 Natural Gas is a much ‘dirtier’ energy source than we thought. Alejandra Borunda. National Geographic. 2020.
35 The World’s Biggest Coal Exporters. Katharina Buchholz, Statista. 2021.
36 Coalitions 600m gas fired recovery boost what you need to know. Adam Morton, The Guardian. 2021.
37 BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020.
38 Despite Pledges to Cut Emissions, China Goes on a Coal Spree. Michael Standaert, Yale Environment 360. 2021.
39 Solar is now the ‘cheapest electricity in history’. James Purtill, ABC. 2020.
40 Australian court finds government has duty to protect young people from climate crisis. Adam Morton, The Guardian. 2021.
41 Court orders Royal Dutch Shell to cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Daniel Boffey. The Guardian. 2021.
42 Chevron investors back proposal for more emissions